Slips and Falls on Snow or Ice—Premises Liability
It’s winter in New Jersey and that typically means snow and ice—on the roads, on the sidewalks, and on steps and other places pedestrians travel. In New Jersey, as in other states, the owner of residential or commercial property, or anyone who exercises control over real property (such as a tenant or property manager) has a duty to monitor and maintain the premises in a way that reasonably minimizes the risk of injury to visitors. How do those laws apply to the accumulation of snow and ice? What are the duties of a property owner to respond to winter weather conditions?
Unlike some other states, New Jersey does not have a specific law addressing the obligations of property owners with respect to snow and ice. Instead, general principles of premises liability will apply. Under those concepts, a property owner must take “reasonable” steps to discover and remediate any dangerous conditions caused by the accumulation of snow or ice. There’s no absolute duty to keep property clear of snow or ice.
Furthermore, there are no specific criteria to identify when a property owner must take action. That’s customarily determined by a jury. As a general rule, the jurors will look at whether the property owner knew or should have known of the risks posed, as well as the type of response made. For example, if there was significant advance warning of a snowstorm, or if the property owner knew from past experience that certain spots were more likely to accumulate snow or pose a danger, a jury will probably require that the property owner take more concrete steps to remove snow or ice. If, however, the snowstorm was unanticipated or the accumulation was uncharacteristically fast, it’s likely that the jury would not expect a complete removal.
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